While songs are often referred to as soundtracks to the summer, it can be argued that there is greater value in vibrant tunes brightening the winter months. London Afrobeat Collective’s latest album, ‘Esengo’, certainly fulfils the function of adding colour to this season’s otherwise short, dark, dank and dismal days. The second word in their name gives a clear indication of what to expect from them, although they spice up their traditional afrobeat with an array of styles including hi life, funk, Latin, jazz and dub. Despite the London part of their moniker, they are a multi-cultural group with their eight members also being drawn from Italy, France, Congo, Argentina and New Zealand. ‘Esengo’ has the added kudos of being produced by Sonny Johns who has worked with greats of world music including Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela, Oumou Sangare and Ali Farke Toure.

The album kicks off with arguably its best song, ‘Topesa Esengo Na Motema’, all blaring horns, choppy funky guitars and rhythms with vocals and soaring, expressive choruses from Congolese singer, Juanita Euka. It has an energy and joie de vivre that would make even the greatest curmudgeon want to break into a smile and skip.

It is followed by one of the three English language tracks, ‘My Way’, which is clearly not a cover of the old Paul Anka-penned Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious hit. Again, it is underpinned by an energetic funk bassline, decorated with percussive flourishes and euphoria inducing horns while the lyrics insist upon following their own path. Another track with a title that misleadingly suggests it could be a cover is ‘Freedom’ but is definitely not the Wham hit. Lyrics are not their greatest strength. Although they do succeed in making their valid points about the ills of the world, they do verge on the cliched. Fortunately, their audience ought to be too busy dancing and chanting righteously to be overly concerned as the song builds to its frantic climax.

The only track on which the pace relents is ‘Take Me To The Sea’, in which the vocals take on a soulful, jazzy dimension with a short reggaeish diversion in a peon to the healing qualities of water.

‘Esengo’ concludes with a couple of great, non-English language tracks. ‘El Ritmo des Londres’ sees those horns getting another work-out to wonderful effect, keys adding to the groove before Cuban piano takes the mood up a further notch. ‘De Kinshasa A Sona Bata’ has numerous shifts in tempo before reaching a thrilling horn and percussion climax.

As Ezra Collective did with jazz, London Afrobeat Collective have taken their chosen form but added multiple ingredients to create a fluid, potent and joyous blend. Over the course of its six-track, 36-minute duration which develop great grooves without over-extending them, ‘Esengo’ provides a glorious remedy for SAD.

London Afrobeat Collective: Esengo – Out 14th February 2024 (Canopy Records)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.